You have many published novels and, I’m sure many that didn’t reach publication. Are there one or two characters that you personally identify with more than others? In what way?
The first guy who comes to mind is Jordy from Becoming Chloe. Shortly after I wrote that book, I had a really good friend tell me, “You know, you are Jordy.” Which was kind of interesting, since I’m not a 17-year old male throw-away street teen. But I knew what she meant. Jordy is a little separate from the people around him. He doesn’t connect easily. But he cares, especially for those who have no one else to protect them.
I think the more my characters are emotionally vulnerable, the more I feel for them and with them.
The other character who comes to mind is Reuben in Pay It Forward. Because of that sense of “otherness” that holds him back. I think we all have that in varying degrees. But I relate to him a lot. It really bugged me that he never made it into the movie. He was only my protagonist, after all.
Your novel Pay It Forward was adapted to film, but, of your other published works, is there another that you feel is particularly cinematic?
I actually was given the job of writing a screenplay for my novel Walter’s Purple Heart. It was in development with a small film company at the time. But nothing ever came of that option. I still think the novel—being part war story, part very odd love story, part reincarnation-themed—would be great on the screen. And that screenplay is still kicking around.
I also think Chloe would adapt well because it’s a road story. When two characters set out traveling to find the beauty in the world, you know that’s going to be cinematic.
Give a short statement describing your most recent novel, Jumpstart the World.
Elle is a barely-16-year-old girl living in New York City. Alone. Her mother’s new boyfriend doesn’t want her around, and her mother is so smitten that she just rents Elle her own apartment and dumps her there. Frank is her new next door neighbor. He lives in the next apartment over with his girlfriend Molly. He’s the first one to find out how young she is, and he takes it upon himself to look out for her. Which is probably why Elle falls in love with him. Even though he’s older, and in a relationship. She knows all that, but doesn’t really care. She just loves him, and can’t stop. What she doesn’t know is that Frank is transgender. Female to male, in transition. Well, at first she doesn’t know. When she finds out, it’s a tough adjustment. Not so much because she has to overcome deep prejudice, but because she’s worried about what this might say about her. But here’s the even harder adjustment: finding out doesn’t change her feelings much. She knows, but she’s still in love. And she’s still grateful to have someone like Frank in her life, even if they can never be together in that sense.
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?
For me that would be hiking and kayaking. Mostly hiking. I have a little motor home, and I like to drive away to someplace like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, and then take off in the morning and spend pretty much the whole day on the trail, by myself. That’s my favorite way to hide out.
Next year a friend and I are going to spend four days kayaking down the Green River through Canyonlands National Park. Nature is my escape.
Your novels come highly recommended, but which YA novels or authors do you highly recommend?
I like David Levithan. I’m reading Will Gayson, Will Grayson right now. But I’ve liked just about everything I’ve read of his. I really loved Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl and Love, Stargirl. I loved The Perks of Being a WallFlower by Stephen Chbosky. I think one of the best YA books ever was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
The why is harder to say. I think because all of these books are both well-written and emotionally important. I have no patience for the all-plot-no-character sort of fiction. I want to know how these characters feel. I want to meet characters who can genuinely touch my own emotions. That’s why I take the time to read. And that’s why I read (and write) YA. Because it tackles emotion head-on. No cerebral existentialism. And no apologies.